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How to put those bookstore gift cards to good use

The pile of holiday cards has finally been dispensed.

They've been sitting in a lump on the counter for months, and you just now got around to sorting them. Some were too beautiful to let go; others had messages you wanted to save, some had addresses you needed, a couple pictures fell on your lap, and you also found at least one gift card for a bookstore.

Uh oh. Is it still good?

Probably, yes. So why not go look for one of these great books?

Fiction

Are you in the mood for a good novel? Of course you are! So you'll want to look for "Copycat" by Kimberla Lawson Roby. It's a skinny little book about friendship and obsession, and how one can ruin the other.

Historians who crave a novel based in history will love "The Women in the Castle" by Jessica Shattuck. It's a story of three women who pull together at the end of World War II. Be prepared to clear your calendar and read, read, read.

Who doesn't love a bit of suspense? Not you, you love that kind of thing, so you'll want to read "Gone Without a Trace" by Mary Torjussen. It's a tale of a woman whose boyfriend has disappeared completely. But is he really gone? Gotta read this book to find out...

Nonfiction

If you're someone who loves to look at old buildings while you're on vacation, consider reading "Fallen Glory: The Lives and Deaths of History's Greatest Buildings" by James Crawford before this summer's getaway. This book tackles some of the most iconic things mankind has ever built, why they were so well-known, and why you can't visit them this summer. This is a big book, so read it now, before you get on the plane; it might be too big to haul.

But here's a book you can easily tuck in your carry-on: "The Not-Quite States of America" by Doug Mack. It's a book about the U.S. territories, how they influence the mainland, and why you should consider visiting them very soon. One more?

Look for "The Handy New York City Answer Book" by Chris Barsanti, which will explain (almost) everything you ever wanted to know about The Big Apple but didn't know where to ask.

Reading should be restful, right? So why do you feel so guilty when you're reading? In "Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less" by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, you'll feel better with a book in your lap because you'll see how you're actually getting things done. There. Doesn't that help?

And if you really want to work hard, then put your imagination to play and read "The Creative Spark" by Agustin Fuentes, to see how creativity and imagination have changed humankind.

So here's the thing: if you love to read, you must know your way around a library, too, right? Which is why you'll want "The Card Catalog" by The Library of Congress. Yes, it's a book about those old card catalogs, what they were for, how they worked, and the art of the word that they may have contained. Along the way, you'll get a gander at some magnificent old books. Readers beware: you'll love this.

No doubt, your child is heading into summer vacation soon, but if you worry about her education in the future, you'll want "Saving Science Class" by Chris McGowan. It's a book about why we need to start science education early, how it can affect the way a child thinks, and why it's good for them for the rest of their lives. While you're using your gift card, also look for "Language at the Speed of Sight" by Mark Seidenberg. It's about reading, literacy, and what can be done to teach both, better.

Politics seems to be on everyone's mind — especially politics and economy — and in "Glass House" by Brian Alexander, you'll get a look at what happens to a town when its largest employer falters. If you liked "Hillbilly Elegy," this should be next on your list.

Another book you might want to check out is "Walking to Listen" by Andrew Forsthoefel, about the author's journey across the nation, to see what we, as a country, have to say.

If you're Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom all day long, then you'll want to find "The Toddler Brain" by Laura A. Jana, MD. It's a book about helping your child hone good skills today for a better tomorrow.

Also look for "Being There" by Erica Komisar, LCSW, a book about why your child's first three years may be the most important years of his whole life, and what you can do to enhance them.

Readers with stars in their eyes may want to take a look at "What Love Is" by Carrie Jenkins. It's a book that examines love in all its forms, including some that go against the mainstream grain.

And if that isn't where you're at in life, then look for "The Optimist's Guide to Divorce" by Suzanne Riss & Jill Sockwell. Yep, it's a handy book to have, if you need it.

You've seen the story on TV, so now read "Convicting Avery" by Michael D. Cicchini. This book takes a deep look at Netflix's "Making a Murderer" and what it has to do with Wisconsin's criminal justice system, as well as that of America as a whole.

Pets & Animals

What would a wild animal say to you, if it could? Animal communicator Amelia Kinkade knows, and in "Whispers from the Wild," you'll see how you can learn to hear animals and perhaps communicate with them. Nature lovers will delight in this book, as will anyone who shares their life with the finned, furred, or winged.

And speaking of winged, look for "Good Birders Still Don't Wear White," edited by Lisa A. White and Jeffrey A. Gordon, illustrated by Robert A. Braunfield. It's a collection of essays written by people who are simply for the birds.

Believe it or not, "Ice Bear" by Michael Engelhard isn't just for lovers of polar bears. No, ecologists will enjoy it, too, as will environmentally-minded readers, animal lovers, culture mavens, and watchers of the Arctic. Bonus: lots of pictures!

Attention cat lovers: you can't miss "Close Encounters of the Furred Kind" by Tom Cox. It's another Cox tale of living with cats (in a house the cats obviously own), life in the countryside, and finding room for one more.

History

With your gift certificate, I'd invite you to take a trip back a hundred years. You don't have to leave your home, but you will need "The Original Black Elite: Daniel Murray and the Story of a Forgotten Era" by Elizabeth Dowling Taylor. This is the true story of the then-assistant librarian at the Library of Congress, and his contemporaries: doctors, lawyers, senators, ministers, business owners, all African American. It's a story of grandeur, culture, fine things, and betrayal. You will be stunned.

As a fan of history, you know there's always a dark side, and "Plotting to Kill the President" by Mel Ayton tells a bit of it. This is a book that steps back to the nation's first days but, surprisingly, only goes up to early 20th century assassination attempts. That means you won't find JFK in there, nor Ronald Reagan — but you will find an interesting bit of American history.

Also take a look at "Rivals Unto Death: Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr" by Rick Beyer.

Written by an author who's delved into quirky history, this book is also a bit of biography. Speaking of which...

Biography

Students of history — especially that of World War II — will eat up "Irena's Children" by Tilar J. Mazzeo. It's the true story of public health expert Irena Sendler and her brave actions: Irena smuggled Jewish children from the ghettos of Warsaw and saved their lives. Yes, you need to read this book.

Though he's been gone many years now, there's always interest in "The Real James Dean," and in this new book edited by Peter L. Winkler, you'll learn what his friends and contemporaries thought about Hollywood's bad boy.

All those things you think you know about Leonardo Da Vinci? You may want to put them aside after you've read "Becoming Leonardo" by Mike Lankford. This biography peeks into the life and quirks of the Master as it takes you back several centuries to Renaissance Italy, and a slice of history.

There's almost always some bio inside the essays written by Michael Perry, and in "Roughneck Grace," you'll see what Mike's up to on his "Back Forty." Told from the point of view of a first-class storyteller, these are tales of farming, kids, family, friends, and neighbors... as well as being a codger, laughing at oneself, and life in general.

Health & Medicine

Baby? Maybe this year, so you'll want to read "The Art of Waiting" by Belle Boggs. It's a compilation of essays on motherhood, infertility, medical intervention for pregnancy, and longing to be someone's mommy. If you enjoyed the articles online, this book is what you want.

Mystery fans should be eager to find "The Family Gene" by Joselin Linder. It's a true story of a medical whodunit: at a very young age, Linder began suffering from a malady that baffled doctors, only to learn that the same symptoms affected many in her family tree. This book is as thrilling as

any novel — maybe more so, because it's true.

If you're looking for something, sadly, that's not exactly pleasure reading, then maybe "Life After the Diagnosis" by Steven Pantilat, MD may be what you need. This is a book for patients and caregivers, and may help sort out feelings, treatments, and thoughts beyond the news you've heard. Hint: family members may benefit from reading it, too.

Kids' Books

History is not boring. Nowhere near it, in fact, and "Colonial Comics New England: 1750-1775," edited by Jason Rodriguez proves it. This book pulls together many chapters of the history of making America, all done and illustrated by a variety of authors and artists. In between stories, your 12-to-17-year-old can enjoy sidebar-chapters on oddities and little-known bits of this fascinating history.

Another history book — this one for kids who are younger (5-to-9-year-olds) is "The Romans" by Suzan Boshouwers & Veronica Nahmias. It's a serious (and seriously fun) look at the life of a kid who lived in the Roman Empire.

Who loves math? If the answer isn't so resoundingly "ME," then look for "The Great Number Rumble" by Cora Lee and Gillian O'Reilly, illustrated by Lil Crump. This chapter book shows kids that numbers can be surprising and even fun, and that there are different ways to figure out how they work. Nine-to-13-year-olds will love it, and you might learn a thing or two.

For the young reader who needs a little Girl Power, "Wonder Women" by Sam Maggs is what you need. This rather small book packs a lot inside: twenty-five mini-bios of women who made a difference, made change, or made history. Bonus: interviews, and the occasional sidebar that offers your 9-to-16-year-old a whole lot more inspiration.

And now the housekeeping: These books are available now but so are lots of others. If you're still at a loss as to what to do with that gift card, send it to me (I'm kidding!).

No, seriously, take it to your local bookstore and throw yourself at the mercy of the bookseller. They're experts in making you happy with a book in your hand, and they can even suggest a nice bookmark, too.

Happy Reading!

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